Striking Assessment: UFC Featherweight Division

Last week I started my series on UFC strikers by breaking down the smallest division in key striking metrics. This week, in time for the Featherweight title fight at UFC152, we’ll look at the 145’ers. A full explanation of the chart and variables is included below.

The Winners

Sniper Award: Cub Swanson has been on a roll lately and tops out as the division’s most accurate striker, landing 37% of his power head strike attempts. For perspective, that’s bordering on Anderson Silva type accuracy, at least statistically. This has helped Swanson win three straight in the UFC, all by (T)KO, and two straight KO of the Night bonuses.

Energizer Bunny Award: Southpaw Eric Koch has more than doubled the striking output of his opponents. But that wasn’t enough to stop ground Hellbows from Ricardo Lamas on last Saturday’s FOX card. There’s no doubt about his skills, he’ll just have to wait longer to test them against the current champ.

Biggest Ball(s) Award: Andy Ogle may cry a lot when he’s away from home, but no one should doubt the size of his, ahem, heart. Though he dropped a split decision in his UFC debut against Akira Corassani, he managed to knock down the Swede despite landing only two solid strikes to the head. He better improve his accuracy and pull the trigger more often if he hopes to get past the similarly gun shy, yet powerful, Josh Grispi. Other notable featherweights with knockdown power include Koch, Aldo, Siver and Bermudez.

 

The Losers

Swing and a Miss Award: Recent UFC debutant Yaotzin Meza failed to land a single power head strike on Chad Mendes during his two-minute KO loss. Other guys also needing some accuracy improvement include Hacran Dias and Rani Yahya, who each miss nine times out of ten.

Smallest Ball(s): Generally, smaller weight classes see fewer knockouts, and 22 of the 49 Featherweights shown here have yet to score a knockdown. But Nick Lentz and Nam Phan have failed to do so despite over two hours of total fight time each.

Starnes Award for Inaction: John “the Gentleman” Clopton threw a total of 33 standing strikes over three full rounds against Steven Siler, who more than doubled Clopton’s output. That’s barely two strikes per minute. Clopton was heard politely saying, “no, after you!” before each exchange.

 

Also Noteworthy

According to the data, Jose Aldo matches pace with his opponents, but is more accurate, and has clear knockout power. Frankie Edgar, however, doesn’t have the same accuracy or power, and is in fact below average for the division by those metrics. We’ll see how things play out this weekend at UFC 152 in what Dana White is billing as the first “Super Fight” of the year. Also coming up the following weekend, we’ll see two of the featherweight division’s best, Cub Swanson and Dustin Piorier, face off for a potential contender spot.

 

How the Analysis Works:

In order to understand standup striking performance, which is more multifaceted in MMA than it is in boxing, I need to boil down a few of the most important variables that determine success as a striker. These are fairly uncomplicated variables in isolation, but together they can summarize a fighter’s overall capabilities. Here, I’ve focused on three fundamental, offensive metrics:

  • Accuracy: I’ve used power head striking accuracy (as opposed to body or leg strikes, or jabs to the head), where the average for UFC Flyweights is about 25%. Certainly, great strikers can attack the body and legs, but the most likely way to end a fight by strikes is by aiming at the head. And in order to keep this comparison apples-to-apples, we can’t have a guy that throws a lot of high accuracy leg kicks skewing his accuracy stat. The accuracy of the power head strike is a great indicator of a fighter’s striking prowess, and there’s a wide range within a single division as we’ll see. This is the vertical axis, so more accurate fighters are higher in the graph.
  • Standup Striking Pace: prior analysis reveals that outpacing your opponent is a key predictor of success, and certainly correlates with winning decisions as it reflects which fighter is dictating the pace of the fight. Here, I’ve used the total number of standup strikes thrown as a ratio to the same output from a fighter’s opponents. All strikes attempted from a standup position are counted, including body shots and leg kicks. This is the horizontal axis in the graph, and the average for the whole division must be 1, so fighters with superior pace appear further to the right.
  • Knockdown Rate: the objective of every strike thrown is to hurt your opponent, and knockdowns reflect a fighter that has connected with a powerful strike. I’ve used the total number of knockdowns a fighter landed divided by the number of landed power head strikes to see who does the most damage per strike landed. The size of the bubble for a fighter indicates their relative knockdown rate; the bigger the bubble, the higher their knockdown rate. The very small bubbles indicate fighters who have yet to score a knockdown in their Zuffa fights.

The data includes all UFC, WEC, and Strikeforce fights through 2012, upto and including UFC 155.  Many of these fighters competed in other higher weight classes, but for the purposes of this analysis, that data was still included and analyzed.

Like Fightnomics on Facebook, or follow on Twitter @Fightnomics to hear when new research and blog posts are available. This analysis was posted at CagePotato, and is part of a running series examining striking performance in all UFC division.  Raw data for the analysis was provided by, and in partnership with FightMetric, and all analysis is performed by Mr. Kuhn.

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